Viola C. Fox estate gift to increase number of chemistry scholarships at UNK

KEARNEY – Donald E. and Viola C. Fox were longtime philanthropic supporters of the University of Nebraska at Kearney Department of Chemistry. What began with a $1,000 gift in 1979 has grown into a scholarship fund of more than $575,000 thanks to an estate gift from Viola after her death in September 2023 at the age of 105.

Don and Viola Fox
Don and Viola Fox

The Donald E. Fox Endowed Scholarship Fund was established to support students studying chemistry with the first scholarship given in 1981. The scholarship is awarded to a second-semester, first-year student majoring or minoring in chemistry with demonstrated academic achievement, need, integrity, character, dependability and motivation. With the new funds from Viola’s generous estate gift, the department hopes to award approximately 20 scholarships in the amount of $1,000 annually. Previously, a single scholarship was given each year.

“After Don’s passing, Vi continued to be a big part of the UNK family. We always enjoyed her visits to our office and at her home,” said Lucas Dart, vice president of alumni relations and UNK development at the University of Nebraska Foundation. “She lived simply and gave generously. We are both thrilled and honored that she chose to make a perpetual impact on future UNK students with this wonderful gift.”

Don Fox taught at Kearney State College/UNK for 38 years and was a prominent and influential figure in the chemistry department. He served as the department chair before being named dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences. Don was honored with the Distinguished Professorship in Chemistry in 1990. He died in 2003 at the age of 98.

“Dr. Fox’s dedication to the education of students and his development of a solid and vibrant chemistry department continues to live on through the current faculty,” said professor Annette C. Moser, chair of the UNK Department of Chemistry. “Don and Vi’s generous financial contributions not only support the scholarship fund, but also an endowed chair and the annual Donald E. Fox Distinguished Chemistry Alumnus/Alumna Lectureship and Banquet.”

Julie Shaffer, interim senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at UNK, said Don and Vi’s contributions elevated chemistry research and the opportunities available to UNK chemistry students.

“The Foxes’ generosity has been wonderful for the field of chemistry, industry and teaching,” Shaffer said. “It’s been wonderful for students who, through alumni guest lecturers, have been exposed to a diversity of careers they may not have even known about, like industrial chemistry. It’s opened new career options for our chemistry students.”

Shaffer also noted the great student experiences provided through the Donald E. Fox Endowed Chair held by professor Allen Thomas, a National Institutes of Health-supported researcher at UNK. An undergraduate student assisted in writing Thomas’ most recent successful grant application.

A student who benefited from her contact with professionals in the field is Fox Scholarship recipient Ruth Harding, a 2006 UNK chemistry graduate who now works as operations manager in the Global Security Directorate at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Harding returned as a guest lecturer for the Don Fox Lecture Series in 2023, when she was honored with the Distinguished Chemistry Alumna Award.

“Contact with real-world professionals and exposure to different career paths were invaluable during my time at UNK,” Harding said. “Seeing academic concepts translated into how I could make a difference was very motivational and inspiring. The lectures encouraged me to look beyond the next exam or lab report to having a career like one of the lecturers.”

Viola Fox’s estate gift supports Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future. The campaign strives to raise $3 billion from 150,000 unique benefactors to support the University of Nebraska. UNK’s goals are to raise $70 million from 12,000 donors. Scholarships are a top priority of the campaign. More information is available at